We are in limbo. The old has passed away, and the new has not yet arrived. For those of us foolish enough to remain in the church, these are terribly uncomfortable times. We don’t necessarily want change; and yet we also know that things can’t stay the same. Christendom is long gone, COVID-19 is real, the world keeps moving online, and these realities are powerfully shaping the future church.
So we are in a time of experimentation and change. We will try many things. Some will be wonderful; some will be helpful for a short time; and some will just be hopeless. We will drop things and make mistakes and stumble along, but we will do this in the sure and certain hope that God is ultimately leading us. Even with this faith, however, this time of uncertainty and change is a deeply uncomfortable place to be.
Our impulse is think the discomfort is wrong, and to seek to alleviate the discomfort. To go back to what is familiar as quickly as possible; to avoid stumbling; to avoid dead ends; to pretend that change isn’t necessary. But we would do well to acknowledge and sit with our discomfort, for it may be a sign of growth, and even a sign of the imminence of new life.
This week, I have found great solace in Romans. This letter of Paul’s was written to people situated right at the heart of a crumbling empire: and they well knew the stress and pain of waiting for God’s new creation. So Paul wrote to them, ‘All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting …’ (Romans 8:22ff). He continues with powerful words of comfort: that the spirit is with us in this discomfort, interceding with God for us and turning even our groans and sighs into prayer.
In other words, the stumbling, the discomfort are real – and part of the process of new life and growth. So feel the pain, allow yourself to groan, sigh, and weep, then hand it over to the Spirit to turn it into prayer.
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